Research released in 2001 showed that humans were able
to talk 300,000 years ago.
Late Homo heidelbergensis specimens which lived
in northern Spain could utter basic vowel sounds, according to researchers
who worked at the Atapuerca archaeological site in Burgos Province.
Heidelbergensis had a voice box which was at an evolutionary stage
between chimpanzees and modern humans.
It was the first time that fossil evidence for this had
been discovered. The findings are based on studies of a complete skull
found in the Sima de los Huesos (Pit of Bones) in Atapuerca in 1992 among the
remains of over thirty other people. They were announced at a news conference
by the co-director of the Atapuerca excavations, Juan Luis Arsuaga, and fellow
palaeontologist Ignacio Martinez.
'For the first time,' they stated, 'we can say that an
anatomically intermediate situation between chimpanzee and human existed
on the planet - not only anatomical but also functional. That means that
humans could talk 300,000 years ago, albeit not in the way we do.'
The now famous skull, Atapuerca 5 was identified as
belonging to the species Homo heidelbergensis, which scientists
usually accept as the last common ancestor of the Neanderthals and
Homo heidelbergensis could pronounce some basic
vowel sounds - 'aa', 'ee', and 'oo' - but not well enough to hold any
kind of conversation. The sounds would have been slow and slurred due
to the dimensions of the mouth and pharynx, according to the Spanish
For Arsuaga, the evidence of a semi-developed voice
box reinforced the idea that 'the evolution of human intelligence also
occurred in a progressive manner,' and not spontaneously, as many
scientists had hitherto maintained.
Since this article was written, the date for human speech has
been pushed back to 530,000 years (in 2008) by the same
researchers, its existence confirmed by the presence of the
hyoid bone in the throat